Father died trying to save 4-year-old son from R.I. house fire, friend says
The man who died in a fire with his 4-year-old son on Friday was an influential budget and policy staffer in Washington who had a deep adoration for his children, friends and former colleagues said.
Ed Lorenzen, who was 47 and a longtime veteran of the federal budget process, died in a fire at his Coventry, R.I., home. His son, Michael, was also killed in the blaze. Lorenzen’s other two children — Zacheri, 12, and Penny, 2 — were able to escape the flames.
A longtime family friend said Lorenzen was found with Michael in his arms, a final act of bravery from a father to a son.
“The man gave his life trying to protect his son,” said 21-year-old Jessamy LeBeau, whose mother had known Lorenzen for nearly two decades and who herself is the godmother to Lorenzen’s 2-year-old daughter.
Lorenzen’s death is a “profound professional and personal loss for our nation,” said Nancy Pelosi, House minority leader, in a statement. “Ed brought unparalleled knowledge, pragmatism and humor to his work on the federal budget. His wit and brilliance were a treasure to all who had the privilege of knowing him.”
Officials spent almost all day Saturday at the home investigating what led to the fatal fire. In a statement Saturday night, Coventry police said the investigation — which spans several local and statewide agencies — remains active, and the cause undetermined.
Firefighters found the home on Colonial Road “well involved with fire” when they arrived, officials said, and stayed at the scene late Friday night putting out the flames. The Fire Department did not respond to a request seeking further information on Sunday evening.
All three of Lorenzen’s children were at home when the fire broke out, but his 12-year-old son Zacheri rescued his 2-year-old sister, Penny, from the house.
“His heroic efforts likely saved her life,” police officials said in a statement Saturday.
Kellie Lorenzen, Michael’s mother and Ed’s former wife, remembered spending time with her son watching cartoons and reading books, and recalled his love of trains, puzzles, and playing outside.
Michael had autism, but he was overcoming his struggles at a rate that amazed his teachers, therapists, and family, she said in an e-mail to the Globe Sunday night.
“He was a brilliant little boy who should have had a bright, successful future. My heart is breaking over and over and over knowing I will never see his sweet smile or hear him say ‘Mama’ again,” she said.
She said she has much pride for her son Zacheri, who saved his little sister.
“He continues to show strength beyond his years and worries about me more than himself. I’ve watched first responders, police officers, investigators and others shake his hand and call him a hero. I’m amazed by him,” she said.
LeBeau said the family is grieving, but have been overwhelmed by the community’s outreach since the tragic fire.
She remembered young Michael as a little boy who loved trains and being close to people, fond of even cuddling up close during meals.
“Michael was a very happy little boy. He was pretty quiet, but he was intelligent, he was very personable,” she said. “He loved his mother, he and his dad were very, very close.”
Lorenzen lived in Silver Spring, Md., and worked in Washington, D.C., with the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, but he came to Rhode Island at least once a week to be close to his children, who lived with his former wife. Lorenzen had adopted Zacheri, while Michael and Penny were his biological children.
LeBeau said Lorenzen owned the home at 22 Colonial Road so he would have a place to stay with his children.
She said Lorenzen would have been grateful to his adopted son for saving his young sister from the fire.
“I know that he would be just so incredibly proud of Zacheri, as we all are. He would never be done thanking him for saving Penny’s life,” said LeBeau. “He just loved Zacheri as his own.”
Lorenzen had worked as a legislative director to former US Representative Charlie Stenholm of Texas, and then senior policy advisor for Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the former House majority leader.
“Many of his former colleagues in my office and across Congress in both parties will remember Ed for his kindness, his intellect, and his love for the institution he served so ably,” Hoyer said in a statement.
Lorenzen had a “rare passion” for fiscal responsibility, Hoyer said, and was instrumental in many of the Democrats’ budget accomplishments during the first few years of Barack Obama’s presidency.
He helped write the Statutory Pay-As-You-Go Act of 2010, which requires that all new fiscal legislation do not increase projected deficits, earning him the Twitter handle of @CaptainPAYGO.
In his Twitter biography, Lorenzen described himself as a “proud dad of three wonderful children.”
Hoyer described Lorenzen as a “wonderful father” and “great friend.” He also loved the Chicago Cubs, and often wore Cubs-themed ties around the office, the representative said.
An online fundraiser for the family had raised more than $20,000 by Sunday night.
Kellie Lorenzen said her friends have “risen above” in her family’s time of need, and she is overwhelmed by the support and love from them and the community. She said her former husband’s friends and colleagues have also been kind with their words and generosity.
“I’m so thankful for everyone who has taken the time to reach out to me,” she said. “It has been a source of comfort.”